This article was originally published by USA TODAY College and has been posted on this personal blog for educational purposes. It has been lightly edited and transformed to meet the assignment criteria for COM 410, Applied Writing for the Media, at Eastern New Mexico University.
“Safe spaces” on college campuses provide an environment free from criticism, harassment and microaggressions for marginalized groups such as sexual assault victims, women, transgender students and more.
But some argue that these safe spaces contradict the concept of free speech. Even former President Obama said that college students “have to be coddled and protected from different points of view” during a Sept. 2015 town hall meeting.
Pushing back against the whole safe spaces concept, a number of conservative guest speakers are being invited to college campuses — often meeting with backlash and protests from students who find their views offensive.
Are student protests against these speakers evidence of liberal intolerance and free speech? Or is it justifiable resistance against hate speech? Debate is swirling nationwide.
1. CHARLES MURRAY
American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray caused violent protests to erupt on the Middlebury College campus the first week of March. Students — many of whom apparently were under the impression that Murray is a white nationalist — chanted phrases such as “racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray go away!” while turning their backs to him.
Murray is a libertarian political scientist known for his controversial book The Bell Curve, co-written with Richard J. Herrnstein, “linking intelligence to class and race in modern society,” according to Amazon.com. Masked protesters injured a campus professor, Allison Stranger, while attempting to confront Murray.
The college says it has initiated an independent investigation into the protest in which the author of a book discussing racial differences in intelligence was shouted down during the guest lecture and a professor was injured.
2. MILO YIANNOPOULOS
In early February, riots broke out at the University of California-Berkeley in protest of conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’s scheduled speech, which was cancelled because of the violence.
Protesters set fire to the generators and trees, broke glass, and were faced with tear gas and rubber bullets from police. Yiannopoulos, a former senior editor for Breitbart News, stepped down from his position just weeks after the protest over comments he made about pedophilia. He also lost a book deal with Simon & Schuster.
3. BEN SHAPIRO
Conservative author Ben Shapiro, the editor in chief of DailyWire.com, was invited to speak at Cal State Los Angeles in Feb. 2016 by the university’s Young American Foundation (YAF). College president William Covino told YAF Shapiro’s appearance was being canceled due to students concerned that Shapiro would promote “racist, classist, misogynist, sexist, homophobic” attitudes. And Cal State LA wasn’t the only campus to protest Shapiro, either.
4. KATHLEEN PARKER
In July 2016, over 300 students at Elon University protested Kathleen Parker’s campus appearance by signing a petition. The petition said students were “desperately asking our faculty and staff allies to aid us in removing Parker and stopping her from spreading her dangerous rhetoric through the school we love and cherish.”
Parker did have supporters on campus as well.
Parker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, writes a column for the Washington Post on politics and culture. Elon students took issue with a couple of her columns, including one about alcohol and sexual assault, and her book Save the Males, about how feminism has alienated men.
5. GAVIN MCINNES
Conservative actor Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of Vice Media, was met with protesters at NYU while giving a seminar for Republicans on campus in Feburary. He spoke for just three minutes before interruptions forced him to end his talk, according to the independent NYU student publication Washington Square News.
The protest on the street became rowdy and McInnes, who left Vice in 2008, was pepper sprayed, reportedly by protesters, and The NYPD was forced to intervene.
6. RICHARD SPENCER
A huge crowd of protesters showed up when white nationalist Richard Spencer came onto the Texas A&M campus to speak in December. Meanwhile, hundreds gathered at an alternative event nearby to celebrate diversity.